By: Tom Grundy, West Midlands, England
2006 Travel and Transitions travel story contest participant
To be fair, 45ºc is just unnecessary. There'
s really no need for such blistering heat - particularly when you'
re a ginger fair-skinned Brummie. When I landed in Delhi this summer,
India was approaching the end of its worse heat wave in decades.
The hot and sticky humidity made my month of backpacking around
the North a bit of a sweaty struggle. However, during an unexpectedly
productive four weeks of solo travel, I went paragliding off the
Himalayas, rafting down the Ganges, took an elephant ride in Rajasthan,
joined the patriotic hollering on the Pakistan border, visited 18
cities, survived numerous lethal rickshaw rides, acquired a good
few dozen mozzie bites, learnt some Hindi, received endless grillings
from curious Indians, cultivated an impressive ginger mullet and
witnessed all manner of festivals, forts, heritage sites, museums,
shrines, temples and ghats. Awesome.
13 rolls of film and 6 hours of video tape later,
I looked forward to settling in the cooler Southern city of Bangalore
for my subsequent two months of development work. The highly Westernised
'silicon city' of the sub-continent, Bangalore boomed in the 90'
s, attracting lots of foreign interest and migration - putting a
heavy strain on the infrastructure. A portion of India' s 250 million
English-speaking-middle-class elite work in the plush high-rise
offices, literally on the doorstep of some of the world' s poorest.
It is an odd and grim contrast.
In early June, after a two day train journey to
the South, I met up with my project partner Paul and we were introduced
to the Development Education Society (DEEDS) by the director, nicknamed
'Tiger' . Over the summer we would be mainly teaching English in
day-centres in the city slums or rural areas of Tamil Nadu. Having
done a similar project in Uganda last year, it was great to start
getting to know the kids during our tour of the centres. We were
introduced to the children one by one; many of them were school
drop-outs or worked regularly in factories, earning pennies. Some
worked as domestic servants to the rich in the morning, and came
to DEEDS in the afternoons. We regaled the sea of curious faces
with a selection of poorly recalled nursery rhymes, whilst I accidentally
made of the children burst out in tears by pulling (apparently very
disturbing) ' funny faces' . Shortly afterwards, one bewildered
looking character approached us and I cheerfully said, “Hey
what's up?Don't look so worried! Paul whispered Um, Tom. He' s blind.”
It perhaps wasn' t most gracious start to the project, but I hoped
to make a bit of a difference here and was optimistic about bringing
some fun and excitement to the lessons.
The sandy slums were more spacious than I' d expected,
and the buildings showed more signs of permanence than the corrugated
iron huts I' d witnessed in Kibera, the world' s largest slum, in
Kenya. Amongst the hustle and bustle of our new place of work, children
played barefoot in the polluted streets - some of them occasionally
stopping to defecate on the side of the road. Although efforts to
establish a sewerage system were visibly being made - it was clear
that the locals were living in filth, with seemingly little idea
of how disease is spread. Randomly placed cows, pigs and scraggly
dogs roamed the streets (as is the case across India), whilst rats,
easily big enough to be mistaken for small felines, scuttled along
Over the following weeks, we embraced the 'non-formal'
teaching approach and used worksheets, role-plays, games, crafts,
songs and posters to communicate the basics of the ' international'
language'. Our revision sessions revealed that some things were
sinking in - but with such a range of age and ability in each class,
it was impossible to get through to everyone.
We had an easier time when we moved to the rural
placement. Here, the students were more attentive and willing to
learn - perhaps a little less ' street wise' and hardened than
their urban counterparts. The teaching was more straightforward,
but living arrangements were a little more ' hardcore' . Having
been treated to a comparatively luxurious apartment in Bangalore,
Paul and I were now sharing a flat with no shower, hot water or
civilised toilet, where the temperature frequently lingered in the
forties. Additionally, it became necessary to sit in darkness during
the evenings - as we learnt that a single light was prone to attract
a menagerie of mystery insects, including swarms of miniature beetles
and the odd hand-sized spider. The appearance of such beasts was
usually marked by my girly screaming, which continued until Paul
wearily ran in to butcher the said creepy-crawly.
What impressed me about DEEDS, a fully Indian charity,
is that as well as handing out rods, they dish out nets, bait and
subscriptions to Angling Times. It' s not just teaching and day-care,
as I' d presumed when I' d signed up via a UK development charity
called ' Development in Action' . In fact, the NGO works on
every level of the community, it' s seriously inspiring - as is
the passion and wisdom of Tiger' s staff.
In addition to work in the city slums, DEEDS looks
after almost 50 rural villages, where the major causes of poverty
seem to be people' s ignorance, and the inability to think long-term
and understand their own problems. With a network of almost 1,000
sponsored children, the charity goes into villages and communicates
their message through songs and puppet shows (such as one we saw
that highlighted the importance of breastfeeding). DEEDS goes on
to help suppress superstitions, teach people about their rights,
about nutrition, voting, farming techniques as well as the importance
of sending their children to school. They set up farmer, women'
s and youth associations, they subsidise seed banks, wells and herbal
gardens, they offer a loan scheme, business advice and even provide
skills training. All this is done with the help of the community
- who always pay for at least some of the costs. Everything is done
at a grassroots level by local charity workers and volunteers, and
it' s much more effective - dare I say it - than the ideas and methods
dished out by Western charity directors from their air-conditioned
A billion people, over a third living below the
poverty line - India' s problems are complex, broad and often seem
hopeless. However, DEEDS is superb example of development work actually
working, and working well.
The teaching was a challenge, a lot of the children
had already been dealt a shockingly cruel hand in life and they
were often, perhaps understandably, awfully behaved. Since the pupils
were attending voluntarily, we couldn' t be too harsh; we maintained
discipline most of the time, occasionally enlisting the help of
our translator, Shanthi (who sometimes wielded a small ' motivational'
cane). Since most of the people living in the slums had migrated
from the neighbouring state, they didn' t speak the local language,
let alone any English. As it' s only really spoken by the educated
middle-classes, English is not a real necessity in India - but it'
s one of the many colonial leftovers and regularly helps lead to
I did this placement during the summer vacation
in-between my 1st and 2nd year, if anyone is interested in development
- then perhaps take a look at www.developmentinaction.org for more
information. I had an amazing time, it changed my outlook and apart
from a couple of minor tropical diseases, I also returned with unforgettable
memories, great friends, and a renewed passion for teaching!
- I went on to produce a website to promote
DEEDS at www.deedsindia.org
and now help to run Development in Action.